Getting to graduation in a pandemic
On Saturday, May 16, Sammi Sandefur graduated from Harper College, completing her associate degree in less than two years. She was accepted at all four universities to which she applied and has decided to pursue creative writing with a minor in education at the University of Iowa. On the surface, it looks like smooth sailing, but the final months leading up to graduation were anything but a pleasure cruise for Sammi.
Sammi, of Fox River Grove, was working full time while carrying a full course load at Harper. When the pandemic hit, her college courses were switched to online, a format that she didn't sign up for and didn't feel fully comfortable with.
"I like to be in class, to ask questions and interact. It helps me stay attentive," said Sammi.
At the same time, she was declared an essential worker and was switched to the overnight shift, working more than 40 hours per week, 9:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Then the father of her childhood friend was hospitalized due to complications from COVID-19. Her friend, just 20 years old, was thrust into the role of making the health care decisions for her father. Sammi moved in with her friend to provide emotional support. Sadly, her friend's father died after her friend made the painful decision to take her father off dialysis. Sammi admitted that she had lost her focus and wasn't doing her course work.
"Things were rough. Originally, I wasn't going to say anything to my professors about what was going on," said Sammi, "but when I opened up to them, they were all understanding."
Each of her Harper faculty worked with Sammi to help get her back on track. They asked her, "What do you need from me? How can I help you through this? What works with your schedule?" One of her instructors paired her up with other students and another let her complete the assignments at her own pace. In the end, she was able to catch up and graduate on time.
Sammi has learned a great deal in these past few months. "If I could tell other students one thing, it would be to communicate with your professors," said Sammi. "And I am not going to take anything for granted anymore," she added, "even classes that start at 9 a.m." Sammi is still waiting to hear if the University of Iowa's campus will open for the fall. If not, Sammi is planning to stay home and start taking a few of her education course requirements at Harper.